I have spent years performing speed training trying to get faster, and one of the most important things I have learned is how important the brain is when it comes to sprinting faster. If you are going to perform speed training exercises, it is important that you consider the brain and how it will be affected by the speed drills you perform.
Speed Training And The Brain
Sprinting fast is governed by the ability of the brain and the nervous system to coordinate muscles, tendons, and bioenergetic systems together to produce rapid movements with high precision.
To sprint fast, one must be able to quickly contract and relax many different muscles with impeccable timing, manage their posture and pelvic position as they fly through the air, and reorient their limbs dozens of times to prepare for a powerful ground strike.
The brain works hard to activate high threshold motor units in order to produce the large forces required to sprint fast. With proper speed training, athletes can train their brains to produce faster, more powerful movements which will lead to faster sprinting times.
Speed Training Exercises For The Brain
Before mentioning specific speed training exercises for the brain, it is important to understand that the brain will be stimulated by any activity you perform. How much the brain is stressed will depend on whether or not you are familiar with the activity, the intensity level of the activity, the total workload performed, as well as other factors like sleep, nutrition, and your overall physical state.
If you are not properly recovered between training sessions or exercises within a training session, your brain will become fatigued and subsequently resistant to improvement. As such, we need to make sure that we prioritize our state of physical readiness and recovery from training, that way our brains can be energized, accurate, and in a state of adaptability.
#1 - Speed Training Workouts
Speed training is typically defined as sprinting performed between 20 and 60 meters, performed at a high intensity level such as 95% or higher. In this exercise, athletes will sprint as fast as they can over a distance which does not elicit significant deceleration. Performing work where there is noticeable deceleration would be classified as speed endurance training rather than speed training, so it is important to pay attention to how far the athlete can maintain their speed.
Speed training will stimulate the brain due to the rapid, high force movements that are performed when we sprint fast. Because speed training is highly taxing on the brain and body, it is important that athletes give themselves ample recovery between sprints if their goal really is to increase their sprinting speed.
Many athletes make the mistake of rushing through their workouts and cutting their rest periods short, leading to them not being able to sprint as fast as possible while they perform speed training workouts.
Here are some examples of possible speed training workouts you can perform which will work your brain as much as your body:
- 6x40m from starting blocks with 4-8 minutes of rest.
- 4x30m fly with a 20-30m run-in, with 5-10 minutes of rest.
- 2x30m, 2x40m, 2x50m, with 1 minute of rest per 10 meters sprinted.
I think that it is important that athletes first start with basic speed training workouts as listed here, progressing their sprint training program over time toward more complex training after they have become familiarized with more simple forms of training. It is important that in order to continue to stimulate the brain, we must always try to progress our training over time toward more challenging, intense, or complex forms of speed training.
#2 - Wicket Sprints With Mini-Hurdles Or Cones
While sprinting in an open lane is a great way to get faster, wicket sprints are a great speed training exercise for the brain. Athletes who are looking to improve their sprinting technique or need to give their brain a new challenge in their sprinting workouts can benefit greatly from using wicket sprints.
Essentially, a wicket sprint is performed by running over soccer cones or mini-hurdles at predetermined distances which can be based on their leg length or their sprinting speed capabilities. Athletes accelerate over a 10 to 20 meter zone, into a zone with 12-18 sets of wickets. The distance between cones or hurdles can be increased after every 2 to 3 zones, such as 185cm x 3, 195cm x 3, 205cm x 2, 215cm x 2, 225cm x 2, etc.
Athletes can measure their trochanter length and multiply that by 2.3 to 2.7 to give them the maximum distance of their wicket spacings. For example, someone with a 90cm leg length might have a maximum wicket spacing of 235 to 245 centimeters.
To get the most out of wickets, athletes should focus on sprinting with an upright posture while exhibiting good quality frontside sprinting mechanics. When I do wickets, I like to focus on using the force of the ground strike to send me up and over the wickets, rather than trying to reach forward or push behind me. Wickets are a great way to work on producing vertical force, while also allowing you to manipulate stride length and stride frequency characteristics of the sprint. The adjustments you make to wicket spacings and technique are a great stimulus for your noggin, making wicket sprints a fantastic speed training exercise for the brain.
#3 - Ins & Outs, Fast Easy Fast, or Sprint Float Sprint
Most of the time when we sprint, we tend to just sprint fast from point a to point b, without any change in rhythm, stride frequency, or intensity throughout the sprint. Flat out sprinting is obviously important, and it is the most specific form of sprinting.
Regardless, I like to perform some speed training sprints in a way that allows for a change in rhythm, stride frequency, intensity, and relaxation. To do this, I use ins & outs, also referred to as the fast-easy-fast or sprint-float-sprint drill. Essentially, these speed training exercises incorporate speed changes at various distances, giving the brain a novel stimulus as compared to flat out sprinting with no speed change.
Essentially, athletes will sprint over a distance ranging from as short as 30 meters to as long as 150 meters, alternating their sprinting speed as they progress through the different zones. Cones can be placed at various increments, and the athlete will be instructed to sprint as fast as they can in some zones, while in other zones they will float or maintain their speed.
When changing speeds between the maintenance/float/easy zones and the fast zones, athletes will have to stimulate their brain to change gears and increase or decrease the intensity of their sprinting. During the submaximal zones, athletes can emphasize running relaxed and maintaining their posture, while in the faster zones athletes can find the limit of their stride frequency and sprinting speed.
When performing these sprints, I try to make sure that I maintain relaxation through both the faster and the easier zones, that way I am always training my brain to keep my body relaxed to sprint as fast as possible.
Sprints performed with speed changes will provide training variety to the athlete, which helps reduce the monotony of training and encourages continued development and adaptations to training over time.
Train Your Brain To Sprint Faster
The types of training discussed in this article are aimed at targeting the brain to improve neuromuscular control and ultimately sprint faster. Speed training exercises for the brain such as these can help transform athletes into faster versions of themselves, without having to get stronger in the gym or perform grueling endurance oriented workouts.
While people seeking healthier lives can use sprinting for fat loss, athletes should use sprinting to stimulate the brain, to strengthen muscles and tendons, to improve their coordination, and to overall become faster sprinters.
If you are consistent over time while balancing work and recovery, you will be able to train your brain to allow you to sprint faster. While it is great to have the best speed exercises or the best speed training program, the reality is that there is no single workout or exercise which will make you better.
Improving as an athlete, and in particular as a sprinter, requires that you balance different types of training such as speed training, speed endurance training, strength training, all the while giving yourself enough rest to recover from the stresses of training and achieve what some might refer to as supercompensation.
If you are serious about sprinting faster and making the most of your speed training, then give these speed training exercises for the brain a try and see how you like them. If properly implemented, they will help you sprint faster.